Wednesday, 23 February 2011

"Sho yur luv" for di Caribbean

Perhaps you are wondering why I have a Caribbean island pictured in my blog header.

During the third year of my degree course I was able to visit Belize, home to the world's second largest coral reef.  Aside from seeing some amazing sea creatures, what enchanted me most about the trip was experiencing Caribbean English.

I’ve always loved the film Cool Runnings - the Jamaican accents are amazing - and during my degree I loved studying the development of creoles around the world, especially when we touched upon the Jamaican dialect. Although it is our language, English in the Caribbean has evolved to take on a whole character of its own. A particular highlight of the trip was being asked at the restaurant in the morning if I would like "beer can" with my morning pancake. 

Besides which, the Belize have a brilliant sense of humour. Here are a few images which capture the atmosphere:




Saturday, 19 February 2011

Trapped between Chauvinism and Feminism... and the dirty dishes.

This morning, as is the role of an English conversation tutor in Spain, I spent an hour chatting over coffee to a lovely Spanish lady and earned more money per hour than I could have believed possible for doing what I love most. However, today’s lesson left quite an impression on me. This mother of two small girls works a full time job 7.30 – 15.00 in an office of 40 employees in which she is the only woman. She then comes home to pick up her children from school and set about running her own resale business which she set up after getting married, and for which she sometimes works till 1am packing the goods to be posted to her clients. Add to this the fact that her husband, who, to his credit, holds down a full time job, does not involve himself in the feminine household activities: cleaning, cooking, washing... As the man of the house he reserves his energy for fixing anything that breaks, changing light bulbs, etc.

The idea of feminism was surely emancipation for women, yet the reality is sometimes not so clear. In a conference at the EU in Brussels last year, a survey informed us that the life-expectancy of women – traditionally far higher than that of a man – has been falling in recent years as the strain of working full time alongside giving birth, breast-feeding and bringing up children starts to take its toll on women’s health.

Amazingly, my time spent working with the European Union actually swayed me further away from feminism! I attended various lectures on the importance for children of having parents who invest in them, not to mention a Swedish study showing that the majority of working mothers end up with jobs in childcare anyway! It seems sad that the value of being a mother, or investing in family, has diminished so much. Perhaps staying at home and looking after young children full time is not everyone’s cup of tea, or always financially viable, but the benefit children receive is undeniable. Speaking of cups of tea, perhaps there are advantages to spending one's days taking children to the park or meeting up with other mums in coffee shops...Ha.

But of course, as equal opportunities open up for women in the workplace, it seems only fair that men are equally given the opportunity to participate in housework. Women of the 21st Century have moved on, but in many households they are waiting for men to catch up.

One of the problems in Spain is that people live with their parents until well into their 30s, as was the case with my student’s husband, whose mother still sorted his dirty washing until he married. Today’s University system in Britain does more than just educate women. It provides men with a vast practical education on the necessities of housework and cleanliness, which is hard to achieve while still under the mother’s wing at home. This is one of the main benefits of finding a man with a degree. My boyfriend is already becoming a very good cook. The fact that his mum still irons his boxers when he visits home is a minor detail which I am afraid he will have to learn to live without if we reach that stage in the relationship. ;-)

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Chorizo, cheap wine, and dinner at 2am: adapting to the Spanish culture!

During my first week in Spain, I thought I had bought myself a carton of grape juice from the supermarket, got home and poured myself a glass... it turned out that wine is very cheap in Spain! Just one of the many mishaps that come from being in a foreign culture. I’ll never forget the time, several years ago, when we heard my Dad coughing and spluttering in the hotel bathroom in China. We rushed in to find that the 4 litre bottle of “water” we had bought in the supermarket, upon closer examination (he had got a bit thirsty), turned out to be neat alcohol! So I guess I could have done worse than buy cheap wine...

By virtue of its being a European country, there is a lot about Spain that is similar to the UK... minus the scarcity of curry houses perhaps. The main difference is the change in timetable, especially mealtimes. I’ve arrived home several times between 12 and 2am to find my housemate cooking his dinner. The thought of eating a huge meal at that time of night before hitting the sack makes my stomach crawl, but of course I’m in Spain, and my meals at 6 o’clock are pretty much considered as late lunches! Letting go of habits, particularly when they involve food, is not something I find easy. Having said that, listening to my English student explaining her typical 5 mealtimes a day – “What’s the word in English for ‘almuerzo’, first lunch?” – I started to think maybe the Spanish are onto something.

A visit to the butcher’s in Spain is not for the faint hearted. Standing there last week, trying to avoid looking at the skinned rabbit stretched out in front of me, eyes and all, I ended up watching the butcher hack out all the guts of a skinned sheep which was hanging on the wall by its back legs, as the lady in front of me had asked for giblets. The experience would have been enough to turn me vegetarian if it wasn’t that Spanish chorizo (sausages) are so amazing...

To divert slightly from the theme of food (!!) the other thing that has amazed me about daily life here is finding the streets deserted by 2pm, despite the sunshine, and everything shut. Shops, banks, bakeries ...etc. Madrid reawakens at about 5pm, and by 8, 9, 10pm the streets are buzzing with life and fun and laughter, with people of all ages milling around the shops and restaurants, meeting friends and generally having a good time.

Speaking of cultural differences, I was horrified to hear my friend saying that she thought the British tradition of having carpets in their houses was disgusting and unhygienic. How could anyone not appreciate the comfort and homeliness of being able to walk around your house with bare feet sinking into the carpet? But of course, if you live in a foreign culture, all the differences to your own habits seem like mistakes!

Still, that is the fun of living abroad. It forces you to analyse things which you assumed were just an inherent part of life. I’m also bemused by the fact it has been down to 0 degrees here in January... yet I am still developing a tan and my freckles are coming out!